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Editorial. Assessing outcomes of combat-related penetrating brain injury

Randall R. McCafferty

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Common chemical agent threats

Randall R. McCafferty and Peter J. Lennarson

The events of September 11, 2001, highlight the fact that we live in precarious times. National and global awareness of the resolve and capabilities of terrorists has increased. The possibility that the civilian neurosurgeon may confront a scenario involving the use of chemical warfare agents has heightened. The information reported in this paper serves as a primer on the recognition, decontamination, and treatment of trauma patients exposed to chemical warfare agents.

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Neural function preservation and early mobilization after resection of metastatic sacral tumors and lumbosacropelvic junction reconstruction

Report of three cases

Sean A. Salehi, Randall R. McCafferty, Dean Karahalios, and Stephen L. Ondra

✓ The management of tumors that metastasize to the sacrum remains controversial. Typically, resection of such tumors and reconstruction of the lumbopelvic junction requires sacrifice of neural elements resulting in neurological dysfunction and prolonged periods of bed rest. This severely affects the quality of life in patients in whom there is frequently a limited life expectancy.

The authors describe three patients who underwent subtotal resection of metastatic sacral tumors. Postoperatively, good outcome was demonstrated in all patients.

The authors present a technique for debulking and reconstruction that provides immediate spinopelvic junction stability and allows for early mobilization. Quality of life is significantly improved compared with that resulting from either medical treatment or traditional surgery.

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Introduction. Military neurosurgery

Randy S. Bell, Chris J. Neal, and Randall McCafferty

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Ossification of the anterior longitudinal ligament and Forestier's disease: an analysis of seven cases

Randall R. McCafferty, Michael J. Harrison, Laszlo B. Tamas, and Mark V. Larkins

✓ A retrospective review was conducted on the records and radiographs of six symptomatic patients and one asymptomatic patient with Forestier's disease. No other series of patients with this disease is found in the neurosurgical literature. Forestier's disease, also known as diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH), is an idiopathic rheumatological abnormality in which exuberant ossification occurs along ligaments throughout the body, but most notably the anterior longitudinal ligament of the spine. It affects older men predominantly; all of our patients were men older than 60 years of age. The disease is usually asymptomatic; however, dyspnea, dysphagia, spinal cord compression, and peripheral nerve entrapment have all been documented in association with the disorder. Five of the six symptomatic patients presented with dysphagia due to esophageal compression by calcified anterior longitudinal ligaments, and one patient developed recurrent spinal stenosis when scar tissue from a previous decompressive laminectomy became calcified. All patients responded well to surgery. Two of the four patients who underwent removal of cervical osteophytes required several months following surgery for the dysphagia to resolve. This would support the hypothesis that not all cases of dysphagia in Forestier's disease are due to mechanical compression. Dysphagia may result from inflammatory changes that accompany fibrosis in the wall of the esophagus or from esophageal denervation. Evaluation of dysphagia even in the presence of Forestier's disease must rule out occult malignancy. The authors' experience suggests that dysphagia in the setting of Forestier's disease is an underrecognized entity amenable to surgical intervention.

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Pediatric neurosurgery during Operation Enduring Freedom

Clinical article

Paul Klimo Jr., Brian T. Ragel, William H. Scott Jr., and Randall McCafferty


Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) is the current US military conflict against terrorist elements in Afghanistan. Deepening US involvement in this conflict and increasing coalition casualties prompted the establishment of continuous neurosurgical assets at Craig Joint Theater Hospital (CJTH) at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in September 2007. As part of the military's medical mission, children with battlefield-related injuries and, on a selective case-by-case basis, non–war-related pathological conditions are treated at CJTH.


A prospectively maintained record was created in which all rotating neurosurgeons at CJTH recorded their personal procedures. From this record, the authors were able to extract all cases involving patients 18 years of age or younger. Variables recorded included: age, sex, and category of patient (for example, local national, enemy combatant), date, indication and description of the neurosurgical procedure, mechanism of injury, and in-hospital morbidity and mortality data.


From September 2007 to October 2009, 296 neurosurgical procedures were performed at CJTH. Fifty-seven (19%) were performed in 43 pediatric patients (16 girls and 27 boys) with an average age of 7.5 years (range 11 days–18 years). Thirty-one of the 57 procedures (54%) were for battlefield-related trauma and 26 for humanitarian reasons (46%). The vast majority of cases were cranial (49/57, 86%) compared with spinal (7/54, 13%), with one peripheral nerve case. Craniotomies or craniectomies for penetrating brain injuries were the most common procedures. There were 5 complications (11.6%) and 4 in-hospital deaths (9.3%).


As in previous military conflicts, children are the unfortunate victims of the current Afghanistan campaign. Extremely limited pediatric neurosurgical service and care is rendered under challenging conditions and Air Force neurosurgeons provide valuable, life-saving pediatric treatment for both war-related injuries and humanitarian needs. As the conflict in Afghanistan continues, military neurosurgeons will continue to care for injured children to the best of their abilities.

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Can surgery improve neurological function in penetrating spinal injury? A review of the military and civilian literature and treatment recommendations for military neurosurgeons

Paul Klimo Jr., Brian T. Ragel, Michael Rosner, Wayne Gluf, and Randall McCafferty


Penetrating spinal injury (PSI), although an infrequent injury in the civilian population, is not an infrequent injury in military conflicts. Throughout military history, the role of surgery in the treatment of PSI has been controversial. The US is currently involved in 2 military campaigns, the hallmark of both being the widespread use of various explosive devices. The authors reviewed the evidence for or against the use of decompressive laminectomy to treat PSI to provide a triservice (US Army, Navy, and Air Force) consensus and treatment recommendations for military neurosurgeons and spine surgeons.


A US National Library of Medicine PubMed database search that identified all literature dealing with acute management of PSI from military conflicts and civilian urban trauma centers in the post–Vietnam War period was undertaken.


Nineteen retrospective case series (11 military and 8 civilian) met the study criteria. Eleven military articles covered a 20-year time span that included 782 patients who suffered either gunshot or blast-related projectile wounds. Four papers included sufficient data that analyzed the effectiveness of surgery compared with nonoperative management, 6 papers concluded that surgery was of no benefit, 2 papers indicated that surgery did have a role, and 3 papers made no comment. Eight civilian articles covered a 9-year time span that included 653 patients with spinal gunshot wounds. Two articles lacked any comparative data because of treatment bias. Two papers concluded that decompressive laminectomy had a beneficial role, 1 paper favored the removal of intracanal bullets between T-12 and L-4, and 5 papers indicated that surgery was of no benefit.


Based on the authors' military and civilian PubMed literature search, most of the evidence suggests that decompressive laminectomy does not improve neurological function in patients with PSI. However, there are serious methodological shortcomings in both literature groups. For this and other reasons, neurosurgeons from the US Air Force, Army, and Navy collectively believe that decompression should still be considered for any patient with an incomplete neurological injury and continued spinal canal compromise, ideally within 24–48 hours of injury; the patient should be stabilized concurrently if it is believed that the spinal injury is unstable. The authors recognize the highly controversial nature of this topic and hope that this literature review and the proposed treatment recommendations will be a valuable resource for deployed neurosurgeons. Ultimately, the deployed neurosurgeon must make the final treatment decision based on his or her opinion of the literature, individual abilities, and facility resources available.

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Association of time to craniectomy with survival in patients with severe combat-related brain injury

Stacy A. Shackelford, Deborah J. del Junco, Michael C. Reade, Randy Bell, Tyson Becker, Jennifer Gurney, Randall McCafferty, and Donald W. Marion


In combat and austere environments, evacuation to a location with neurosurgery capability is challenging. A planning target in terms of time to neurosurgery is paramount to inform prepositioning of neurosurgical and transport resources to support a population at risk. This study sought to examine the association of wait time to craniectomy with mortality in patients with severe combat-related brain injury who received decompressive craniectomy.


Patients with combat-related brain injury sustained between 2005 and 2015 who underwent craniectomy at deployed surgical facilities were identified from the Department of Defense Trauma Registry and Joint Trauma System Role 2 Registry. Eligible patients survived transport to a hospital capable of diagnosing the need for craniectomy and performing surgery. Statistical analyses included unadjusted comparisons of postoperative mortality by elapsed time from injury to start of craniectomy, and Cox proportional hazards modeling adjusting for potential confounders. Time from injury to craniectomy was divided into quintiles, and explored in Cox models as a binary variable comparing early versus delayed craniectomy with cutoffs determined by the maximum value of each quintile (quintile 1 vs 2–5, quintiles 1–2 vs 3–5, etc.). Covariates included location of the facility at which the craniectomy was performed (limited-resource role 2 facility vs neurosurgically capable role 3 facility), use of head CT scan, US military status, age, head Abbreviated Injury Scale score, Injury Severity Score, and injury year. To reduce immortal time bias, time from injury to hospital arrival was included as a covariate, entry into the survival analysis cohort was defined as hospital arrival time, and early versus delayed craniectomy was modeled as a time-dependent covariate. Follow-up for survival ended at death, hospital discharge, or hospital day 16, whichever occurred first.


Of 486 patients identified as having undergone craniectomy, 213 (44%) had complete date/time values. Unadjusted postoperative mortality was 23% for quintile 1 (n = 43, time from injury to start of craniectomy 30–152 minutes); 7% for quintile 2 (n = 42, 154–210 minutes); 7% for quintile 3 (n = 43, 212–320 minutes); 19% for quintile 4 (n = 42, 325–639 minutes); and 14% for quintile 5 (n = 43, 665–3885 minutes). In Cox models adjusted for potential confounders and immortal time bias, postoperative mortality was significantly lower when time to craniectomy was within 5.33 hours of injury (quintiles 1–3) relative to longer delays (quintiles 4–5), with an adjusted hazard ratio of 0.28, 95% CI 0.10–0.76 (p = 0.012).


Postoperative mortality was significantly lower when craniectomy was initiated within 5.33 hours of injury. Further research to optimize craniectomy timing and mitigate delays is needed. Functional outcomes should also be evaluated.

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Neurosurgery in Afghanistan during “Operation Enduring Freedom”: a 24-month experience

Brian T. Ragel, Paul Klimo Jr., Robert J. Kowalski, Randall R. McCafferty, Jeannette M. Liu, Derek A. Taggard, David Garrett Jr., and Sidney B. Brevard


“Operation Enduring Freedom” is the US war effort in Afghanistan in its global war on terror. One US military neurosurgeon is deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to provide care for both battlefield injuries and humanitarian work. Here, the authors analyze a 24-month neurosurgical caseload experience in Afghanistan.


Operative logs were analyzed between October 2007 and September 2009. Operative cases were divided into minor procedures (for example, placement of an intracranial pressure monitor) and major procedures (for example, craniotomy) for both battle injuries and humanitarian work. Battle injuries were defined as injuries sustained by soldiers while in the line of duty or injuries to Afghan civilians from weapons of war. Humanitarian work consisted of providing medical care to Afghans.


Six neurosurgeons covering a 24-month period performed 115 minor procedures and 210 major surgical procedures cases. Operations for battlefield injuries included 106 craniotomies, 25 spine surgeries, and 18 miscellaneous surgeries. Humanitarian work included 32 craniotomies (23 for trauma, 3 for tumor, 6 for other reasons, such as cyst fenestration), 27 spine surgeries (12 for degenerative conditions, 9 for trauma, 4 for myelomeningocele closure, and 2 for the treatment of infection), and 2 miscellaneous surgeries.


Military neurosurgeons have provided surgical care at rates of 71% (149/210) for battlefield injuries and 29% (61/210) for humanitarian work. Of the operations for battle trauma, 50% (106/210) were cranial and 11% (25/210) spinal surgeries. Fifteen percent (32/210) and 13% (27/210) of operations were for humanitarian cranial and spine procedures, respectively. Overall, military neurosurgeons in Afghanistan are performing life-saving cranial and spine stabilization procedures for battlefield trauma and acting as general neurosurgeons for the Afghan community.